Controlling Chaos – How Learnings From A QUT EMBA Are Helping The Star Gold Coast COO Navigate a Global Pandemic

As one of Australia’s top young executives, Jessica Mellor has always had the confidence of those around her, but despite her success, she felt at times there was something missing.

At 35, Jessica has been the CEO of an ASX-listed company and is now The Star Gold Coast’s youngest and first female Chief Operating Officer, appointed to the position in June 2019.

In this role, she oversees the operations of this iconic and transformational Star property including two hotels; multiple restaurants and bars; a state-of-the-art theatre and Event Centre; and casino, not to mention a $2 billion masterplan underway. At full capacity, her team of 2200 entertainers looks after an average of around 3.5 million people per year.

qut emba
Jessica Mellor, QUT EMBA graduate

“As a relatively young person with a senior position in ASX-listed company, it’s obviously important to have the respect and confidence of people both inside and outside your organisation,” she said.

“And although I knew I’d worked hard to secure my position, I thought some further study might complement my existing skills and experience and significantly benefit my credibility as a leader.”

While quickly climbing her way to the top of Aquis Entertainment, the public company that owns and operates Casino Canberra, she embarked on an EMBA through QUT’s Canberra campus.

The EMBA was a challenging return to the rigours of formal study for Jessica, who had previously completed a Bachelor of Property and Sustainable Development, and a stint at QUT law school.

While studying at night, she was spending her days restructuring to turn around a loss-making casino, overseeing major capital improvements, and negotiating with the ACT Government over a significant expansion.

It was a rapid ascent for the Queensland native who began her career as an Assistant Design Manager for a multi-national construction company and has since worked across multiple sectors including infrastructure and property development, funds management, and corporate advisory.

In 2013, she moved into the hospitality and entertainment industry after taking on the role of Executive Director, Strategy, and Project Development with the Aquis group. In this role, she was involved in a range of activities including key asset acquisitions, government affairs, and lobbying for the modernisation of gaming legislation.

[Also read: The QUT Digital MBA Planning To Export Tassie’s Success To The World]

She said while the EMBA was a significant challenge on top of an intense workload, the benefits far outweighed the negatives.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from the program but I thought it would involve a lot of business and management theory,” she said.

“I was quite surprised when it turned out to be far more practical and useful in my day-to-day job. I was learning things at night that I could apply to the real world the very next day and see immediate benefits from that application.”

In March 2019, Jessica secured a role as The Star’s youngest ever General Manager and it wasn’t long before her talents and hard work got her promoted to the role of Chief Operating Officer.

Today, she uses every one of her new management and leadership skills to guide the business through the devastating impacts of the global pandemic, which has wreaked havoc on hospitality businesses world-wide.

“Before the EMBA I had no insight into or language to use to express concepts like complexity theory,” she said. “But I don’t think anything could better explain what our business and many others have experienced over the last six months.”

“Having studied the concept of complexity, I am more comfortable managing and making decisions while working in a chaotic and multifaceted environment.”

Ms Mellor’s rapid rise through the ranks of Australia’s tourism and entertainment industry resulted in her being honoured in June as one of six recipients in The Australian Financial Review’s 2020 BOSS Young Executives of the Year program.

She told BOSS she considers herself an authentic leader.

“I think I was less successful as a leader when I was trying to be a professional,” she told the magazine. “I connect with my team much better by being myself. I think I am adaptive. And I am resilient. Not too much bothers me day to day.”

Although the property is now operating with COVID-safe plans in place to align with state government requirements, Jessica maintains her passion and enthusiasm for tourism, hospitality and entertainment and looks forward to the future and a resurgence in the sector.

“I’m sure we will get back to creating good memories soon,” she said. “One of the reasons I love this industry is the incredible mix of passionate people you get to work with. We love the Gold Coast, and its place in people’s lives as a place for fun and time out – and we know how to help create that!”

Ben Ready
Ben Ready founded MBA News in 2014 and is the Managing Editor. He is a former business and finance journalist with Australian Associated Press (AAP) and Dow Jones Newswires in London. Ben completed his MBA in 2012 and was awarded the QUT GMAA Entrepreneurship Prize. He is also the founder and Managing Director of RGC Media & Mktng (